UNIONVILLE — On most days, the raucous cries of seasoned auctioneers fills the sale barn at the
Putnam County Fairgrounds. But from June 9-12, that sale barn rang with praise from the lips of 81 young cowboys and cowgirls.
For the fourth straight year, Kevin Collins, pastor of Omaha Baptist Church in Putnam County, and a staff of volunteers hosted a Rodeo Bible Camp that fuels students' thirst for God through instruction in cowboy skills.
Rodeo Bible Camp is a ministry of the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys, a network of cowboys and other individuals who want to share Christ in rural America through their interest in rodeo. Local FCC chapters meet for Bible study and fellowship and most organize worship services at cowboy events and rodeos.
The Putnam County group organized the Chariton Hills Chapter. "Our church was one of the initiators of the chapter and the camp," Collins said. "We're about as far east as they get right now."
Well-known rodeo instructors come from four or five states, and livestock are shipped in. The camp takes advantage of the fairgrounds cook shack and uses the Lions Club and 4-H buildings to house the students. Sara Sevits serves as camp director. Scott Brown of Georgia was the special speaker for this year’s event.
This year, students could choose training in horsemanship (for those who had little experience), bull riding, trick riding, barrel racing, bronc riding, team roping, goat tying or trick roping, taught by a world-class trick-roper from Oklahoma.
Collins also makes sure each camp gets a little extra "cowboy flavor" by including a cowboy poet or a hayride on horse-drawn wagons.
Chapel services were held on Wednesday evening and twice on Thursday and Friday. Students also were divided into teams for small group devotions and fun activities. "The kids get personalized rodeo instruction and get some personalized spiritual attention at each camp," he said.
This year, the camp recorded 12 campers who asked Christ into their lives and about that many others who renewed their commitment to the Lord. "We ask our team leaders to follow up throughout the year, and we find a local church to follow up with them as well," Collins explained.
The event also touched the community through a Saturday morning rodeo. Students showed off their newly acquired skills to parents and friends. Area folks enjoyed lunch, an awards presentation and worship. "So the camp becomes an outreach to the community," he said.
The Rodeo Bible Camp attracts students primarily from northern Missouri and southern Iowa, with a few coming from other states, mostly accompanying instructors. The FCC website posts the list of camps each year. "Some know about the camps and want to attend, and they choose the closest one to them," he said.
The number of campers has risen steadily since the event started, adding about 20 participants each year.
Offering the camp is a faith venture for the church and the chapter. "But it's neat to see how God has worked," Collins stressed. Each camp costs about $10,000 to host. Part of the expense is covered with a $150 registration fee per camper. The rest comes from chapter fundraisers and gifts from area churches. Some vendors also provide supplies at cost or less. The camp's livestock contractor hauls the rodeo animals just for the price of his fuel.
"It's neat to see how God has worked things out," he said. "Area farmers and ranchers donate hay. People donate the corral panels and provide housing for the instructors. It's a pretty involved thing to put on but it's worth it.... It's a neat way to reach kids."
Although he didn't do much rodeoing as a youth, Collins took up team pinning and team roping about 20 years ago. An avid horseman, he now operates a small ranch near Powersville.
And he and his team have already started meeting to plan next year's event.